Red shopping cart with Thanksgiving groceries

Let’s (St)roll There: Toward a Climate-Conscious Thanksgiving

Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a series we call Let’s (St)roll There, describing how to get to unusual or out-of-the-way places by foot, bus, train or bike.

I learned so much assembling this compilation of heartfelt and human — and climate-friendly — advice from our contributors for a car-free, or car-light, Thanksgiving.

  • First, you don’t have to do this perfectly, especially if you’re accustomed to carrying groceries and fancy food by car.
  • Second, a Friendsgiving with intentional family may be more fun and less stressful than the traditional, multigenerational turkey gathering.
  • Third, planning is required to pull off a different kind of Thanksgiving. Hopping in a car (or an outsized truck or SUV) is quicker and more convenient than checking bus schedules, factoring in walking time or bundling up against the chill before heading out on your bike.

As our contributors prove, however: You can do this! Read on.

Shopping By Bike? Beware Potholes

I’m not entirely car-free this Thanksgiving (or ever!), but biking with two kids has left me well-equipped for shopping-by-bike, although the kids are getting big enough that I need to leave them at home in order to have enough space to fit an entire cart-load of groceries. In past years I’ve piled an entire box of CSA vegetables around (and on top of) one kid in a bike trailer, and a baby bike seat is a great place to safely strap in your turkey for the ride home from the store.

Lisa Nelson transports her family’s Thanksgiving turkey in a Yepp Maxi child’s seat on her Xtracycle eSwoop cargo bike. 

Bikes are definitely the way to travel when shopping for last-minute forgotten ingredients — usually a lot easier to park! And several local stores are part of Bicycle Benefits, so you might even get a bike discount. The biggest hazard for shopping by bike has been potholes. I have to carefully cushion my egg cartons with baked goods, bananas usually end up bruised and I once almost lost a loaf of bread out of my front basket. 

Lisa Nelson, St. Paul resident; co-chair, Union Park District Council transportation committee

Let’s Get Real

While my family manages a very car-light existence in south Minneapolis, my parents and in-laws live in two different suburbs 25-plus miles from our home. Our parents often host for the holidays, which leaves us with the following choices for transportation:

  • 30-minute drive
  • 1-hour, 40-minute bike ride
  • 2-hour, 15-minute transit ride (with the final leg of the trip requiring a 30-minute walk or a 4-mile Lyft ride, depending on which home we’re visiting).

Those are all times for one-way trips, so total transit time for the day would be double these times just to visit one set of parents and get back home. We have two young kids, so we take our car.

However, leading up to the holiday we work to get all of our groceries and errands completed on foot or bike. We’ve had an electric Radwagon 4 cargo bike for two years now and have worked to perfect our storage solutions on board: We have large panniers, a front basket and a cargo net to keep bulky items secure within the rails where the kids sit on the back of our long-tail bike. If the kids join for the grocery shopping, we hook up the Burley and have our own bike version of a minivan with all of the storage we need!

— Laura Groenjes Mitchell, Minneapolis resident; board chair, Our Streets Mpls

Ride Transit to Run

My girls and I are going to bus to downtown Minneapolis to run the Turkey Day 5K for the first time. Should be a chilly morning so a warm bus that drops us right off at the start will be good.

My biggest question is if I should bring a backpack or attempt to travel light. Traveling by bus (or really any travel form) with kids has not made me a light packer. Tissues for runny noses? Water? Snacks? Cash? Activity? Extra warm clothes? The list goes on. Stay tuned for your 2024 issue for me to report back on how it goes.

Becky Alper, Minneapolis resident; Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board commissioner, District 3

Not Quite Car-Free, But Close

My Thanksgiving won’t exactly be car-free, but may be helpful for people on the fence about selling their cars.

I’ll be visiting my mom who lives outstate, inaccessible by bike or transit, so I will be renting a car. Having a light rail connection to the airport means I always have easy access to 24/7 car rentals, even on holidays. It’s one of the things that gave me the confidence to sell my car, knowing I wouldn’t be cut off from my rural family members. 

An advantage of renting over owning a car is that I can choose the right tool for the job. On Thanksgiving I only need to transport myself, so a small car is just fine, whereas last week I went deer hunting, so I rented a pickup truck to transport the deer and other hunting equipment.

Kyle Jones, Minneapolis resident; year-round cyclist and transit enthusiast

Staying Local Is Climate-Light

This week at work, my supervisor asked the icebreaker: How are you considering and integrating climate change into your holiday plans? This was a tough one. I’ve never thought about it before! However, I realized that my car-light lifestyle means I’ve already integrated climate-forward ways to approach the holidays.

Streets.mn board co-chair Christy Marsden

This year, my partner and I are keeping the holidays small and skipping travel. This means we can connect with friends and neighbors who also choose to stay in town and share leftovers (which are a lot easier to bike around!).

Christy Marsden, Minneapolis resident; co-chair, Streets.mn board of directors

A friend is hosting a Friendsgiving in early December, and we are lucky that they live only 11 blocks south of me. I’ll be making cranberry scones, which pack nicely in a pannier, but no one is upset if a scone gets a little extra crumbly. 

My partner, Ian R Buck of Streets.mn Podcast fame, has a pizza rack on the front of his bike, so we can easily bring a pie or anything in Tupperware. Historically we have either arranged to bring dishes that do not have to be hot, or we organize with the host to arrive early and heat things up when we get there. Biking with food means it may not look Martha Stewart-approved when you get to your destination. But it’s about the flavors and spending time with loved ones. Who cares about presentation and garnishes?

This year I upgraded to an ebike, which makes my gigantic grocery run so much easier. My Aldi is a little over a mile away. My panniers fit in the cart, and I bring a backpack for extra-large shopping trips. I bake, so having the e-assist on my bike helps me carry all that flour, butter, sugar and canned pumpkin home. The hardest part is making sure all 12 eggs don’t get jostled around, but the new bikeway on Bryant Avenue keeps me rolling smoothly home.

Christina Neel, Minneapolis resident; Podcast committee, Streets.mn

Transporting Food Without a Car

In preparation for our Thanksgiving dinner, I did a practice run by making a mock-duck and veggie Shepard’s pot pie. I had enough that I walked one of the pies over to a friend’s house, using the Pyrex pie-dish with a domed, silicone lid, fit inside an insulated carrier bag. Had I needed to go farther than just half a block, I would have used a bungy-cord to strap that to the back rack on my bike, which has served as a great way to get pies to holiday events in the past.

Brian C. Martinson, St. Paul resident; non-motorized transportation member, Metropolitan Council Transportation Advisory Board; and Ward 4 member, Saint Paul Planning Commission

This year, I volunteered to bring some bread rolls to my Friendsgiving. Bread is lighter weight on a bike, and rolls can take bumps in the road just fine (as long as they’re on top in the bag)! I’ve brought larger bowls of food to potlucks by taking the bus in the past, too (either cold dishes or ones I can reheat upon arrival). A good sealable container and tote bag make it a lot easier.

Brian Mitchell, Minneapolis resident; board member, Streets.mn, and chair, technology committee

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File photo, Streets.mn

I am not hosting Thanksgiving this year but can offer some tips on making grocery runs and transporting potluck items on Metro Transit.

  • A regular-size backpack and a large tote bag together can usually hold enough grocery items to last at least a couple of weeks, for individual needs. Consumption rates can correspondingly be adjusted for multiple people, for one day. This is maneuverable on public transit and on a bicycle; the contents of a tote can be transferred to a pannier and/or basket on the bicycle.
  • For very large matters (say, purchasing a turkey), plan grocery trips a few weeks in advance, to make space for multiple trips. Foods that can keep or freeze well — meats, potatoes, spices, apples, bread and flour — can be assembled earlier. Purchasing perishable foods like fresh vegetables can be saved for the final grocery run(s).
  • Be proactive about trip chaining: Can you stop by the grocery store on the way to or from another trip you’re planning? Even if you are driving, trip chaining can save on time and gas.
  • If spillage is a concern, secure a container with rubber bands and then place it inside a Ziploc® bag. If temperature regulation is a concern, use a thermal bag.
  • Plan out your transit trips in advance, using tools like Google Maps or Metro Transit’s NexTrip.

Austin Wu, St. Paul resident; Union Park District Council transportation and land use committees

Food for Thought

I have thought about how to transport my side dish by bike to the potluck Thanksgiving. Knowing that most people at the event we are attending (14 to 17 people) have committed to carb-heavy dishes that are expected to be served warm, I am bringing a citrus salad recipe that I found on America’s Test Kitchen.

Citrus salad from Punchfork

I biked to the store last week to shop and beat the Thanksgiving week rush. I’ll cut everything up ahead of time but will assemble the dish somewhere at our hosts’ home. Yay for room-temperature dishes!

Plus this recipe is good for those attending who won’t eat meat, or gluten, or shellfish or food with cilantro. We have a lot of restrictions to work around. And the container can be rinsed and dried and could contain leftovers to bring home if they are offered. With good weather, I’ll pedal the Luce Line State Trail from Plymouth east into Golden Valley where our hosts live near the golf course.

Erik Ruthruff, Plymouth resident; board member, Streets.mn, and editor-in-chief

I lived car-free my first six years in the Twin Cities. So I would bike to get to my American family’s Thanksgiving dinner. One of those years, as a surprise gift, I had bought a wheel of Dutch cheese, large enough to put your arms around. Somehow I was able to bike it over, and the aged Gouda made it to the appetizers. Obviously, there were tons of leftovers. Fortunately, aged Gouda cheese keeps well.

Hugo Bruggeman, St. Paul resident; chair, Macalester-Groveland Community Council transportation committee

Come on, Retailers: Get a Clue!

We will be gathering as a family with two of our sons. Instead of roasting a whole turkey, we will be content with a turkey breast and abundant side dishes. I was able to fit our shopping list in a couple of pannier bags for my e-bike.

The Target in West St. Paul has limited bike parking, often obscured by seasonal displays. “There’s my bike, well-camouflaged by holiday planters,” says Ed Steinhauer, who took the photo.

Our eldest son lives in town. He does not own a car, and will arrive by bike or bus. There will surely be more trips to the store before Thursday, but I believe those pannier bags will be put to good use again, before we preheat the oven. 

Ed Steinhauer, St. Paul resident; teacher, year-round utility cyclist

Practically? Policy Has to Change First

How will I celebrate a “car-free” Thanksgiving? As a matter of practicality I will not, but the idea does give me pause to consider how our built environment has made this act impossible for even many of the most committed to living a sustainable life.

My reality is that I will be visiting family members who are located in Greater Minnesota locations where there is no option for mobility by transit. Further, most of my family lives in places where generations of zoning and land use policies have made the possibility of walkable neighborhoods illegal to construct. In order for a “car-free” Thanksgiving to be a reality, we need to legalize traditional land use patterns so that people can live close to the places that they rely on. Only then can we transit-connect these places to one another so we all have the option of communing with loved ones without reliance on expensive and ableist automobiles.

Despite this sobering reality, I will give thanks that those of us who care about an equitable, accessible and healthy future continue to grow in numbers and find our voices.

Michael Wojcik, Rochester, Minnesota, resident; executive director, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota

Amy Gage

About Amy Gage

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Amy Gage is managing editor of Streets.mn. A former journalist, she writes a blog about women and aging (themiddlestages.com) and is executive director of Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County.